That depends entirely on whether the Hippocampus barbouri seahorses from your local fish store are cultured seahorses that were born and raised in captivity or whether the H. barbouri are wild-caught seahorses that were collected from the ocean.
Captive-bred-and-raised Hippocampus barbouri that are trained to eat frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet are a fairly good choice for your first seahorses, Joe. However, if the barbouri available from your local pet dealer are delicate, wild-caught seahorses, then they would be a terrible choice for a beginning seahorse keeper, sir.
Having said that, Joe, I should explain that, in general, I believe the home hobbyist is always much better off ordering his seahorses directly from the breeder or collector, rather than purchasing them from their local pet store or fish store. The reason for this is that when you get the seahorses directly from the source, you can be assured that they have been handled properly and fed well, so that they are likely to reach you in the best condition. The seahorses that reach our local pet store have often undergone a long arduous journey from collector or breeder to wholesaler to your retail pet dealer, and are likely to have been starved or handled inappropriately at every step along the way. Pet dealers are often uninformed about the unusual requirements and specialized feeding habits of seahorses, so they often lack the proper food for them, and the seahorses are often malnourished as a result. Worst of all, when they reach your local fish store, the seahorses are normally kept in aquariums that share a common water supply with all of the rest of the marine fish in the store. This means they can be exposed to any pathogens or parasites that those other wild fish from all around the world may be carrying, and that is very undesirable for obvious reasons.
However, obtaining the seahorses locally does save you shipping costs and it does allow you to handpick the seahorses and examine them closely before you make a purchase, and if you are going to purchase a pony from your local fish store, Joe, it’s absolutely imperative that you examine it very closely before you do so in order to make sure that it is healthy and eating frozen Mysis.
Here are the warning signs and symptoms to check for when you’re giving a seahorse at your LFS a visual inspection, sir:
When performing an initial physical exam, the posture and buoyancy of the seahorse should be closely scrutinized. A seahorse bobbing at the surface is abnormally and positively buoyant. Buoyant animals will often struggle to maneuver deeper into the water column. They should be evaluated for air entrapment problems such as air in the brood pouch (males) or hyperinflated swim bladders. If the tail is extended outward caudodorsally or ‘scorpion-style,’ examine the subcutis of the tail for gas bubbles (subcutaneous emphysema). Subcutaneous emphysema of tail segment also appears to be a condition restricted to males.
Just as abnormal is a seahorse that is lying horizontally at the tank bottom for extended time periods. This may be an indication of generalized weakness or it may indicate negative buoyancy associated with swim bladder disease or fluid accumulation in the brood pouch or the coelomic cavity.
Evaluate the seahorse’s feeding response. Seahorses normally forage almost constantly during daylight hours. An individual that consistently refuses appropriately sized live food is behaving very abnormally and should receive nutritional support to meet its caloric needs.
The rate and pattern of breathing should also be evaluated. Rapid breathing and ‘coughing’ (huffing or expulsion of water in a forceful manner through the opercular opening or the mouth) suggest gill disease.
The entire body surface including the fins should be examined for hemorrhagic regions, erosions, ulcerations, excessive body mucus, unusual spots, lumps or bumps as well as the presence of subcutaneous gas bubbles. Evaluate both eyes for evidence of periorbital edema, exophthalmia, and any lenticular or corneal opacities. Since seahorses are visual predators, maintaining normal vision is absolutely essential to successful foraging. The tube snout is also very important to normal feeding activity. It is utilized like a pipette to literally suck prey out of the water column.
Evaluate the tube snout for evidence of edema, erosions, and successful protraction/retraction of the small, anterior, drawbridge-like segment of the lower jaw. Close
evaluation of the tail tip for erosive/necrotic lesions should also be performed.
Finally, the anal region should be closely evaluated for redness, swelling, or tissue prolapse. For closer evaluation it may require getting the seahorse in hand. If this is the case, wear non-powdered latex gloves to prevent injury to the integument of the animal.
Last, but perhaps the most important of all, ask your pet dealer to feed the seahorse before you make a purchase. If the pet dealer does not agree to do so, or if the seahorse(s) refuse to eat when food is offered to them, do NOT buy that seahorse. Something is clearly wrong with it, and the chances are excellent that the seahorse is already on the way out.
If the seahorse passes this visual examination, and is eating well and behaving normally, with none of the red flags or warning signs discussed above, only then should you consider taking him home. That’s a quick checklist you can use to determine if the seahorses at your LFS appeared to be healthy or not before you make a purchase, Joe.
Good luck, sir!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support